Written by: Eileen Sholomicky
I like puzzles. And lists. And ranking things. I am meticulous about organization, and I color-code anything from my list of homework assignments to the way I arrange my pens and whiteboard markers. It’s no wonder I’m a fiend for rearranging my bookshelves. As the years have gone on, from teenagerhood to now, cleaning out and rearranging the order of my books has gone from a chore to catharsis.
In my teenage years, I had a system, but not a very good one: favorite authors took up the more visible shelves, while the ones I didn’t like much went near the top; the ones I was debating letting go went on the bottom, on my “shelf of shame,” alongside the heavy books that anchored the case from toppling over.
The world has begun to open up in summer 2021—”post-COVID” according to news outlets, “mid-pandemic” according to myself and my friends, but that’s a different conversation. After being inside for a year and a half, my friends and I began going out again to all of those places we missed. For a few of us, that meant the library and bookstores. It seemed every week my best friend was asking if I wanted to go to Barnes & Noble, not because we needed new books, but it was nice to be out somewhere quiet, surrounded by literature.
In our ventures, I became reacquainted with the way bookstores and libraries organized themselves: age group, genre within that age group, then author by last name. I knew the system when I was a teenager, but I didn’t care too much about it. Now, preparing for grad school and “real life,” aiming for a job in the publishing industry, I pay careful attention to what is shelved where, whether it matches the content of the book and/or the marketing. Some books I think are for-certain fantasy I find categorized as science fiction; other times books that should be adult and are even referred to by their authors as such end up on YA shelves. In any capacity, studying this organizational style has led to changes in my own.
I have rearranged my bookcases twice throughout the pandemic, weeding out old books I no longer had any desire to keep to make room for new releases. Over Thanksgiving break, I completed my latest rearrangement: one bookcase dedicated to YA, and one to both my adult books and my TBR shelf. (…Or should I say shelves? I bought too many books over the summer.) In each case, the books are arranged by genre, then personal preference: favorite genres toward the middle, with favorite books most prominent; those I have no strong feelings about towards the top; and my “shelf of shame” on the bottom, full of books I no longer like or whose authors I now despise, but that I cannot bring myself to be rid of for one reason or another.
I am already thinking ahead to my next rearrangement, and may just finally bite the bullet and go full-on library/bookstore and arrange by age category, then genre, then author last name.
Of course, these are far from the only bookshelf organizational styles out there. These are merely the ones I like best because they make logical sense to me and bring me joy. Some other readers prefer organizing their shelves by what looks most aesthetically pleasing. These are the sorts of styles you would find on prominent Bookstagram or Booktok pages. One of the most popular is rainbow shelves: arranging your books by spine color, starting with red and creating a gradient in the manner of ROY G BIV, followed by the neutrals like white or black. Another popular style is arranging by spine height, which gives you the bonus of more space to lay down overflow books in a neat manner. Other people prefer to keep paperbacks and hardbacks separated, and some people even enjoy displaying their books backward, pages-out (a minimalist trend that has garnered a bizarre amount of ire in the book community; I say, to each their own).
Sometimes I wonder what your personal organization method says about you. I suppose mine might say that I like organization and categorization; that is true. And it might be true that someone who prefers rainbow shelves is a bit artsier and more carefree at heart. Or perhaps it says nothing at all, other than you own some books. No matter what—no matter how you organize, what your style may or may not say about you, there is no wrong way to display your books.
Maybe just make sure to actually read them every once in a while.
(…I promise that’s a self-callout.)